Nani was a hunchback woman who used to come to our para(neighbourhood) every day. Nobody knew what her real name was. Why everyone called her Nani (maternal grandmother) that also was unknown. Nani had no regular job. She was not a maid in anyone’s house like the other women who came to our para. She used to come with a huge cloth bag tucked to her waist and roam around the whole area. After the winter months, she used to pick up barren and dry branches, tuck them and go at the end of the day. Nobody knew where her home was. Probably she didn’t have a home. Often she was found spending the night on someone’s verandah or on the altar of some shop.
Nobody knew if she was Hindu or Muslim. There was a big temple in our area. On many days Nani used to sweep the courtyard of that temple to earn free prasad for lunch. She was often found diligently mopping the Muslim Mazar (Shrine) as well. She used to get money/warm clothes in exchange. Nobody ever bothered to ask her age. She looked quite old or perhaps looked older than her actual age, we don’t know. She was frail, had a hunchback and was bent from her waist, her skin was dry and heavily wrinkled, she had cataract in her left eye and the eyeball had turned white, even her right eye had poor vision, she always wore torn sarees without any blouse, I never saw her wearing any shoes. However, what I loved about her was the toothless grin. Whenever we met she used to flash her toothless grin.
It was a scorching summer afternoon and I found my dog barking a lot. I rushed to the verandah to see what was wrong and I saw Nani plucking guavas from the guava tree in our backyard. When she saw me she felt embarrassed and slightly nervous, as if I had caught her stealing something. She started avoiding me ever since that day. Honestly, I had felt nothing when I saw her plucking fruit. I would have given her if she had asked. Yet she started feeling guilty.
My live-in maid picked up this trivial incidence and spread a rumor to the entire neighbourhood that Nani was stealing guava from our backyard. Soon similar stories started cropping up. An aunty said that Nani had stolen her sari, another woman said that she had stolen her shoes, everybody in the locality started saying that the bag she carried with her was full of stolen stuff and within no time Nani was branded a thief. Each time she entered our locality the security guards used to chase her away. Gradually, she stopped coming.
One day, while coming back from college I met Nani. She was sitting in the tea shop on top of the road and nibbling on a piece of bread. Probably, she had cleaned the tea-shop to earn that piece of bread. On seeing her I went near her, she looked up at me but the toothless grin was missing, I could see a stern hatred in her cataract clad eyes. I mumbled almost inaudibly ‘how are you?’ but she didn’t reply and looked away. I stood there like a moron for some time with everyone else looking at me.
Years passed and almost everyone in the locality forgot about her. In fact who even cared for her in the first place? I had also left my Dad’s place and shifted to Hyderabad. Then one day during our usual calls my dad mentioned casually that Nani was hit by a truck and her mangled body was found near the highway. People identified her from the cloth bag that she always carried with her. Police tried looking for her family members but found none. Nobody claimed her body and she was cremated by Police along with other identified bodies. I couldn’t hold my curiosity and asked what was found in her bag. My dad said nothing other than some torn and tattered clothes, and coins worth hundred rupees. I hung the phone and the white eyes and the toothless grin flashed in front of my eyes. I could feel the wetness in my eyes. Probably that was the only drop of tear shed for Nani by anyone.